Most modern English learner's dictionaries use controlled defining vocabulary for defining lemmas. Which German learner's dictionaries incorporate controlled defining vocabulary?

  • Really useful question for all German learners. I have a hard time with Duden's definitions, which are often more complicated than needed. One example I have found today: duden.de/rechtschreibung/Feierabend , defined as "Freizeit im Anschluss an den Arbeitstag". Why not "Freizeit nach der Arbeitszeit", which is much simpler? Commented Aug 13, 2020 at 14:23
  • @AlanEvangelista While your alternative Freizeit nach der Arbeitszeit is probably easier to understand for learners, I'd assume the Duden chose its definition because it is stylistically more refined (as it avoids the doubling of -zeit plus emphasizes the opposition TagAbend) and more precise (as im Anschluss – 'following' – is more specific than nach – 'after'). Commented Aug 13, 2020 at 19:54
  • @AlanEvangelista "Freizeit nach der Arbeit" would even be simpler. However, for a shift worker this could be at any time. The original meaning of "Feierabend" is in fact the free evening after a working day. In Middle High German the meaning was more precisely the evening before a (religious) holiday.
    – Paul Frost
    Commented Aug 14, 2020 at 17:10

4 Answers 4


There are a few German dictionaries for learners that use a more restricted vocabulary than dictionaries for (adult) native speakers:

  • Duden - Basiswörterbuch Deutsch als Fremdsprache: according to the description on the Duden website, the definitions in this dictionary use only words that are defined in the dictionary, apparently 7.000 words. It contains the entire vocabulary for the Goethe-Zertifikat B1 (but not only those, I think). The current edition dates from 2013.
  • Duden - Deutsch als Fremdsprache - Standardwörterbuch: this dictionary has 20.000 entries and is geared at learners on the levels B1 - C1. According to the publisher's description, the definitions are "easy to understand", but this is not defined in terms of controlled vocabulary. The current edition dates from 2018.
  • Langenscheidt Großwörterbuch Deutsch als Fremdsprache is probably a "classic" in this field, as it has been around since the early 1990s. It is aimed at learners and contains 90.000 definitions, phrases and example sentences. Unfortunately, neither the publisher's website nor the dictionary's introduction mention the use of a controlled vocabulary (even though the definitions are simpler than what you find in dictionaries for native speakers).
  • PONS Großwörterbuch Deutsch als Fremdsprache contains 110.000 definitions, phrases and example sentences. However, neither the publisher's website nor the dictionary's introduction mention the use of a controlled vocabulary.

Based on this brief overview, the only learner's dictionary of which I can confidently say that it uses a controlled vocabulary for its definitions is Duden - Basiswörterbuch Deutsch als Fremdsprache. For the other dictionaries, I can only assume that they use a controlled vocabulary.

Update August 2020: Online, there is Online-Wörterbuch Deutsch als Fremdsprache von PONS, which is presumably based on the printed version (or the other way around).


I do not know if and to what extent "controlled defining vocabulary" is an issue in German monolingual dictionaries in terms of a concept that is explicitely defined as a policy, i.e. beyond the natural use of more simple and frequent words to describe the meaning of more complex or rare ones.

For yourself to assess, here is a page taken from "Duden Deutsches Universalwörterbuch", 8th edition. This dictionary is not intended explicitely for the use of learners with other first language, though, rather it is meant for universal use.

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(I skimmed through the variuos prefaces of this 2000 pages dictionaries, but I did not find something like "controlled dictionary" mentioned there.)

One observation however: reading definitions like

Abfalleimer: Eimer für den Abfall

it seems to me that the concept of "controlled defining dictionary" is used here (although perhaps involuntarily), as you could argue that for a native speaker of German you do not need a simple-worded definition like "Eimer für den Abfall" for a word like "Abfalleimer" that a) everybody 3 years old knows and b) that is self-explanatory.

  • Nach dem, was ich bisher verglichen habe, entsprechen die Wortdefinitionen und Beispiele des Universalwörterbuchs so ziemlich denen des Online-Dudens, der Kauf des Ersteren dürfte daher in den meisten Fällen überflüssig sein. Beispiel: abfangen
    – Pollitzer
    Commented Sep 22, 2018 at 8:52
  • @Pollitzer Ich war immer davon ausgegangen, dass die Einträge gleich sind. Es wäre zu viel Aufwand, sie getrennt redaktionell zu betreuen. - Es gibt andere Gründe ein Buch zu kaufen oder auch die Desktop-Version für den Rechner, die beim Buch dabei ist, wie auch die Print-Version als Pdf. All dies funktioniert nämlich auch ohne Internet. Commented Sep 22, 2018 at 9:21
  • Ich sage ja: in den meisten Fällen. Und wenn schon kaufen, dann das da: Das große Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache. Hat natürlich seinen Preis.
    – Pollitzer
    Commented Sep 22, 2018 at 10:02
  • content.taylorfrancis.com/books/…
    – Houman
    Commented Sep 22, 2018 at 15:16
  • @Pollitzer. Ja, bei 200 Euro kann man da nur auf das Christkind hoffen... Commented Sep 22, 2018 at 20:26

My recommendation is Pons Großwörterbuch Deutsch als Fremdsprache, see Pons Shop, which would exactly address, what you look for, but I'm unsure concerning the size of vocabulary used for explanations. For Abfalleimer there is just a reference to Mülleimer, which in turn is defined as

Behälter für den Hausmüll

Abfall provides:

Stoffe, die nicht mehr verwendet und deshalb beseitigt werden


And one more:

Kempcke, Günter et al. Wörterbuch Deutsch als Fremdsprache (Berlin/New York, De Gruyter, 20xx)

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